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Grand Committee

Volume 837: debated on Thursday 18 April 2024

Grand Committee

Thursday 18 April 2024

Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment, Surrender and Compensation) Order 2024

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Amendment, Surrender and Compensation) Order 2024.

Relevant document: 12th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)

My Lords, the order before us adds zombie-style knives and zombie-style machetes to the list of prohibited offensive weapons, by amending the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) Order 1988 to include them. The purpose of this draft order is to maintain public safety by restricting the supply of weapons which can be used in violent crime or to create fear in our communities. The Government keep legislation in relation to prohibited offensive weapons under review and we will act when the police raise concerns about specific weapons. For example, zombie knives were banned in England and Wales in 2016, followed by cyclone knives in 2019.

We are now concerned about the availability of certain types of machetes and large outdoors knives, which do not seem to have a practical use and instead appear designed to look menacing. The police tell us that these bladed articles, which can be purchased for as little as £10, are favoured by those who want to use them as weapons to perpetrate violent crime. While sales of these weapons are relatively low, they have a disproportionate effect because their appearance creates a fear of and glamorises violence.

We are aware that machetes and other large, bladed tools such as scythes, billhooks and large outdoor knives have traditionally been used as tools in farming, gardening, clearing land and waterways, as well as in outdoor activities such as bushcraft, hunting and camping. However, unlike more conventional knives and machetes, zombie-style knives and machetes have no legitimate purpose. In our conversations with manufacturers and retailers, they have been clear that, in their view, these articles are not designed as tools but as weapons. If these dangerous weapons remain available, there is a risk that they could be used to intimidate or cause fear. Worse, they could be used to perpetrate serious acts of violence. The Government will not tolerate such a risk.

This brings me to the details of the order before us. Under Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, it is an offence to possess, import, manufacture, sell, hire, offer for sale or hire, expose or possess for the purposes of sale or hire, a weapon specified in an order made under that section. An offence under Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 currently carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment, but we have introduced provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill to increase the maximum penalty to two years.

A number of descriptions of weapons have been specified under Section 141 and therefore prohibited, including butterfly knives, knuckledusters, telescopic truncheons and certain types of swords with curved blades, commonly known as samurai swords. Using the order-making powers in Section 141(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, the Government wish to add zombie-style knives and zombie-style machetes to the list of offensive weapons to which Section 141 applies. These weapons are defined as a bladed article with a plain cutting edge, a sharp pointed edge, and a blade over eight inches in length. This length was chosen to exclude knives designed for legitimate purposes, such as many kitchen and outdoors knives. To be within the scope of the ban, the article should also have one or more of the features specified in Article 1(1)(a), namely, a serrated cutting edge, more than one hole in the blade, spikes, or more than two sharp points in the blade.

It is right that we take the firmest possible action to prevent violence and to stop dangerous weapons getting into the wrong hands, and we are not seeking to criminalise law-abiding citizens. There will therefore be defences to cover a range of circumstances, including where the article in question is one of historical importance, is made by hand, is possessed, sold or imported for religious purposes, or was given as a gift by a Sikh to another person at a religious ceremony or ceremonial event. Antiques are already exempted from Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Furthermore, we are providing a defence for blunt items to protect the fantasy knives market. We have also taken the opportunity to extend this defence to curved swords.

There are a couple of further points to mention before I finish. First, Parts 3 and 4 of this instrument are concerned with the surrender and compensation scheme, through which owners with weapons in scope of the ban will be able to surrender them and claim compensation if they so wish. Secondly, in terms of territorial scope, the statutory instrument will only apply to England and Wales. We very much hope that the devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland and Scotland will take similar action to ensure that these dangerous knives are prohibited across the United Kingdom. To this effect, officials have engaged with the Governments in both Northern Ireland and Scotland.

In summary, nothing matters more than public safety. That is why we are bringing forward this order, to prevent dangerous weapons being used in violent crime or to create fear in our communities. I beg to move.

My Lords, I say thank you to the Minister and his Home Office team, which drafted this order, for including a clear and comprehensive exemption for objects of historical importance. Carving out a space for history is not the easiest thing to do when you are dealing with people being killed and seriously hurt but it is really important, and to have done it in a way that the ordinary citizen—rather than just museums—can take advantage of is particularly appreciated.

History is real. Iconoclasm is not a virtue. We have a long history of our ancestors carrying blades into armed conflicts, not just as weapons but as tools of utility and survival. Preserving these items is important. Museums have a limited capacity, so the role of preservation falls mostly on the amateur collector and the descendants of our brave veterans. I am delighted that the Government recognise that.

Historical knives do not play a significant role in crime—they are far too expensive for that—so excluding them from the order does not in any way decrease the protection that it offers. By way of illustration, it was not so long ago that a curved sword was sold for £400,000, possibly because it belonged to Lord Nelson. Generally, these articles fetch a decent price—far more than it costs to purchase a replica on the net or elsewhere.

Ministers have not always been so perspicacious. The historical importance exemption is not available for items prohibited by Section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, so there are items from World War II—obviously, they are not 100 hundred years old yet—issued to, for instance, the commandos and their SOE, as well as to their equivalents in other nations, that are not protected. I very much hope that the Minister and his team will make a note on the file that this is something they might set right when next an opportunity occurs. We ought to preserve these objects for just the reasons that have motivated the exemption in this order.

I also believe that there is scope for clarifying the law on truncheons. As it is at the moment, I am not at all clear that the police practice of presenting long-serving officers with engraved, old-style truncheons is legal; it would be nice to know that it is. There is also some scope for looking through the guidance that the police use when applying these rather convoluted regulations on prohibited items, so that they really understand how the various descriptions and exemptions work and so that things are made clear and easy for them.

I look forward to further conversations on these matters, both directly and as a result of the Home Office’s most helpful interactions with both Bill Harriman of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and John Pidgeon of the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team.

My Lords, in 2021-22, 282 people lost their lives to knife crime—the highest number of people killed with a knife in over 70 years. The biggest increase was among boys aged between 16 and 17, going from 10 in the previous year to 24. Approximately four in 10 of all homicides were committed using a knife or a sharp instrument—the highest annual total since the homicide index began in 1946. There were 69 homicides where the victim was a teenager; in around three-quarters of those, the method of killing was a knife or sharp instrument, compared with 41% of all homicides.

Campaigners have been calling for a ban on zombie knives for several years, but progress on achieving one has been slow and several high-profile incidents have occurred since it was promised. These include the tragic killing of 15 year-old Elianne Andam, who was stabbed on her way to school in Croydon in September with what was believed to be a large zombie knife.

Meanwhile, this is the Government’s third attempt at banning zombie weapons since 2016. Bizarrely, the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 banned zombie knives only if they had threatening words on the blade. This proved a major loophole. Can the Minister explain why this loophole was not addressed sooner? Where was the sense of urgency then and where is it now? This ban will not come into effect until September, by which time, tragically, more lives may have been lost.

The Policing Minister, Chris Philp, told BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme that although some swords will come under the new rules, some will not qualify owing to the difficulty of differentiating between those that could be used for violence and those kept for historical or religious reasons. He said that

“a regular sword, like the sort a historic soldier might carry, would probably not qualify. It would depend on the design”.

Is this still the case? If so, why could these swords not be included, given the availability of the historical importance defence? In any case, is not a sword, historical or not, capable of being used in violence?

Reducing the circulation of these weapons is not just about bans and sentences, important though both are. It is about cracking down hard on the sale of knives and swords of all kinds. Campaigners rightly want tech companies to introduce safety measures to stop knives being advertised online, so can the Minister update us on the progress of the relevant measures included in the Online Safety Act? How many prosecutions have there been in this area so far and how has this been policed?

I also want to speak about youth services, which have been cut by 77% over the last decade, despite the fact there is overwhelming evidence to show that youth centre closures are closely linked to youth crime. In 2020, the APPG on knife crime focused on the impact of youth centre closures across the country and found that each reduction in the number of youth centres corresponded to an increase in knife crime. This trend is confirmed by recent work from the University of Warwick, which reviewed London youth centre provision and found that crime participation among 10 to 15 year-olds increased by 10% in those London boroughs affected most by youth centre closures between 2010 and 2019.

Increasing jail time and banning zombie knives are welcome to increase deterrence and give police more tools, but they do not address the reasons why children and young people are carrying knives in the first place. As the representative of a Bristol school that had lost two of its teenage pupils due to knife crime said:

“Halving knife crime will not be achieved by banning machetes or … zombie knives. You can kill someone with a knitting needle or a screwdriver. You’ve got to deal with the anger, the fire, the rage, the angst, the trauma inside the person”.

That goes to the heart of this, and I hope that the Minister, as well as answering my specific questions, will also address himself to that challenge, because this is about tackling not just knife crime but the causes of knife crime. The British public and so many grieving families are looking to the Government to do both.

My Lords, I have only a few things to mention. I support the legislation. It is necessary for all the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, went through in the statistics about violent crime, and because these weapons are terrifying. I am not sure that they are always the most effective weapon at times because they are the hardest to hide. There probably are more effective weapons, but for anybody who sees them, particularly in a public place or if it is repeated in social media, they are just terrifying. Any attempt to restrict their availability and possession is a good thing.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised a few questions about the process, but I did not think it was fair to make the point that only nine prosecutions may be expected next year. That does not mean that this type of knife would be used nine times if it remained on the non-prohibited list; it is clear that they are being used far more often and not only when the police are involved. There is a far bigger case than the nine prosecutions anticipated in the response of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. My question is, in part, about the compensation scheme and, in part, about the effectiveness of this part of the Bill.

First, the wholesalers and retailers of the knives are to be banned. I believe they could reasonably be expected to be given compensation, as could anybody who possesses one of these knives. My question is whether they will be compensated at wholesale or retail prices. Some may say that that is not relevant, but it could be, certainly to the impact of the cost of the scheme.

More importantly, wholesalers and retailers—at least, those based in the UK—must have a list of their recent sales. Have the police asked for a list of those people who have been sold to or could it be provided by the manufacturers, which I believe will ask for compensation? The impact statement suggests around 472 knives—or something of that order—might be received, which means that it is not an impossible task for the 43 police forces of England and Wales to get around, have a look and see whether the people who bought them in the last five years still have them. If they do not, who did they sell or give them to? The police could commit to that. As to the Minister’s point, they asked for this power, so it is not unreasonable to ask whether they could chase down a few of these things, which might be out there; otherwise, we are just waiting for them to be discovered after being used or by other forms of police intelligence.

My final point addresses the last point from the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, which is that it is not only the weapon that causes these problems. Collectively, we have never really had a proper campaign to ask the public to tell us who has these knives. Somebody always knows. It may be a mother, a brother or a member of a gang; they are all terrified. But we have not collectively reached out to the public and asked for that information. The police then need to commit to follow up and find the people who hold these knives. Could this be an opportunity?

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised the point that this scheme would have to be marketed, not least because of the compensation. Could that opportunity be taken, perhaps in conjunction with a body such as Crimestoppers, to suggest that the information is brought forward and that the police will act on it—ideally when the person is carrying the knife, as opposed to when it is at home? That is the point at which action needs to be taken—it is an offensive weapon when it is being caried. This affects weapons that are made to be offensive, but it also includes the other two groups, which are intended or have been adapted to be offensive. It is vital to build the public into this campaign to make sure that they provide information and, as importantly, that the police follow up on it at a time when the person might be carrying these knives.

My final question is on the blunt defence, on which the material that I received does not have an awful lot of detail. Of course, something blunt could be made sharp, so I suppose the open question is: what prevents someone who has a blunt weapon sharpening it? A material that cannot be sharpened is one obvious answer; it could be fractured so that it is hard to sharpen. I would like to understand how something blunt could be prevented from being sharpened.

There is a similar challenge around firearms. Some imitation firearms can be converted, and a lot of work has gone into ensuring that that does not happen. My open question is what similar considerations have been taken on these weapons, which may be blunt but could be adapted later.

My Lords, we too welcome this SI. I will start with some questions for the Minister, then comment on other noble Lords’ contributions to the short debate.

First, what are the Government doing to increase prosecution rates for knife crime? Currently, fewer than half of those who come to police attention are actually prosecuted. Do the Government have any plans to introduce a new serious violence strategy, given that the existing strategy is five years old? What assessment have the Government made of the threat of so-called “ninja swords” and why are they not covered by this legislation? The Government, as we heard, have tried to ban zombie knives before but the retailers have adapted their designs to get past the laws. Are the Government confident that they have done enough to stop the same thing happening again this time?

Further, online knife sales represent a serious issue in terms of lack of supervision by the websites and the lack of regulation over online marketplaces hosting illegal knife sales, particularly when these websites are hosted overseas. Can the Minister say something about buying these types of knives from overseas websites, how they may be intercepted and the obligations put on the people running those websites?

I also want to acknowledge that I understand this is a difficult problem and do not want to score political points on this issue, but there is a wider strategy to be developed and adopted to try to cut down this scourge in our society. The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, made an extremely good point when she drew the comparison between the cuts in youth services and the corresponding increase in knife crime. That really points to one of the sources of the problem that we have seen in recent years.

As an aside, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that I am glad he made the points that he did. I agreed with those points and many families, including mine, have historical pieces which would certainly be illegal if they were sold nowadays in shops—so I thank him for that.

The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, raised some detailed questions, which I thought were very interesting, about the practical steps that police forces can take to track down sales and do some proactive policing to see what has happened to the knives that have been sold legitimately over the last few years. Of course, a huge number have been sold illegitimately, but we understand that point.

In conclusion, I want to talk slightly more generally. As noble Lords may know, I sit as a youth magistrate and regularly see knife crime-related charges in both youth and adult courts. One of the things I always do in the youth court is make sure that the parent, responsible adult or elder sibling sees the knife, because very often the person who accompanies the young person in court does not really know the extent of the danger which may have been posed through carrying that knife. Whether it is the physical knife itself, which we sometimes see in court, or a picture of it, I always make sure that the responsible adult sitting next to the young person sees that object, so that they know what we are talking about.

The other thing I always do with the young person, however serious the knife-related offence is, is say to them that their own lives are in danger. What we regularly see in court is young people being attacked with their own knives when fights break out. Twice in the last five years, I have had young people not turning up to court for a knife offence because they themselves have been killed. This is why I say that to the young people in front of me; one can only hope that it drives the message home.

We need to say that it is gang-related or drug-related, of course, but a lot of these people will say that they carry these knives for their own defence. They are more frightened of the harm posed to them by other people carrying knives than they are by what the court can do to them by way of sanction. This is not to argue for higher sanctions, but it is to argue for education and better youth services, and for a wider intervention through schools and other youth programmes to try to bear down on this scourge.

The final point I want to make is that people often ask questions about racial disproportionality, with young black men attacking each other. In this House and elsewhere, you hear of people saying that the police are disproportionate in their response to this and in stopping and search young black people. I have certainly been in more than one meeting with black mothers who have said to me and to the people with me, “You’re not doing enough to protect our sons”. So we need to do more to protect their sons and we need a holistic approach to do that, but, as far as this SI goes, I support it.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this relatively short debate. I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his personal insights from his courtroom; they made a great deal of sense and, in some cases, were very disturbing. I have had similar conversations with some of those mothers; they are particularly relevant in the context of some of the debates on stop and search that we have had in this House. Perhaps we need to do more to publicise the results of some of these conversations.

I will do my utmost to address the questions asked of me. I will start by talking about the serious violence duty, which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me about, because that obviously informs the entire debate. In 2023-24, the Government allocated £13.1 million to continue the implementation and delivery of the serious violence duty; that followed a commitment made in January 2023. The noble Lord will remember that, through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, the serious violence duty requires a range of specified authorities—such as the police, local government, youth offending teams and health and probation services —to work collaboratively and put in place plans to prevent and reduce serious violence in their local communities, enabled by new powers to share both data and information. Of course, that Act also contains measures such as serious violence reduction orders as well as other things; it is probably a little too soon to tell precisely how effective those are but, obviously, they are in train.

Local areas have the flexibility to determine the geographical extent of their partnerships. We are encouraging local areas to use multiagency partnerships where possible. The point was made by both the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that educational institutions, prisons and youth custodial institutions—known as “the relevant authorities”—are under separate duties. We expect them to co-operate with the core duty holders when asked as well. We also require partnerships to consult such institutions in their areas.

The fact is that this is a societal issue. We are not going to solve it this afternoon, but I have heard the points made and, of course, I will make sure that they are shared round the relevant parts of government—that is, most of government and most of society.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me about ninja swords and other types of bladed articles that are used in crime. Concerns have been raised during the passage of the Criminal Justice Bill through Parliament in relation to swords, in particular so-called ninja swords. Those that have the features set out in this legislation will be banned; however, those that do not have those features will not be, because we have focused our efforts on the types of weapons that the National Police Chiefs’ Council has raised as being of particular concern.

As my noble friend Lord Lucas mentioned, many members of the public legitimately own antique swords and swords of historical interest. People also own modern swords as collectible items, and there are those who own swords for activities such as martial arts, fencing and re-enactment. Many British military swords have straight blades and are treasured by service personnel when they serve, as well as by their family members when they are passed on. These articles are generally owned and used responsibly, obviously.

The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, is quite right about blunt blades. Something that is blunt can be sharpened. However, we have provided the defence of blunt items, which would enable collectors of fantasy knives to purchase for display items that would otherwise be prohibited. We are taking the opportunity to extend this defence to curved swords, as I have mentioned, but it is important to note that, if an item were sharpened, it would become illegal. If this comes to the attention of the police, they will be able to make a charge for unlawful possession of a bladed article if the blade is sharpened.

I also point out to the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, that the unfortunate and awful crime in Croydon that she mentioned was actually committed with a kitchen knife.

The statistics are not quite as bleak as the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, suggested. I am always a bit nervous talking about statistics in relation to what are individually horrific circumstances, so please bear that in mind when I mention them. The latest provisional admissions data for NHS hospitals in England and Wales showed a decrease in the number of admissions for assault with a sharp object in the year ending September 2023. The figure was 4% lower than in the year ending September 2022. We should also bear in mind that many of the comparisons that we make are with the years of Covid, when many people were locked up—metaphorically speaking—so they are not direct comparisons. If we compare like for like, the numbers are improving. That is not to say that they are not still awful, as I said, and obviously we have to do much more about that.

I thank my noble friend Lord Lucas for his very generous remarks, particularly for his remarks about my officials who, I may say, are excellent. I completely agree with my noble friend, and we do not praise our officials often enough. I also take note of his concerns and in fact I share one of them. As an ex-policeman, I have a truncheon, and I am slightly concerned that I may have just criminalised myself, so I need to work on that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, reflected on the Online Safety Act. Ofcom is currently consulting on the codes of practice that will provide clarity to tech companies on how it intends to monitor compliance with provisions in the Act, so it is too soon to tell on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, asked about compensation because the SI, as he noted, contains provisions for the surrender of, and compensation for, offensive weapons. I apologise for the fact that that was not mentioned in the original Explanatory Memorandum; that was an oversight, and it has been corrected. The current design of the scheme is that we have adopted the same approach as for the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 surrender and compensation scheme. The standard level of compensation for that scheme was set out following consultation with weapons experts from the Royal Armouries. Looking at the current prices for zombie-style knives, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, we believe that £10 remains about right.

The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, talked about the number of prosecutions. Obviously, I do not yet know how many we can expect as it is impossible to forecast. What I would say is that the supply of these knives will also be constrained because Border Force officers are experts in intercepting these sorts of banned items, as they have proved with others. The supply will become constrained but, of course, as we have noted already, other types of knives are available that are difficult or impossible to ban. The guidance will be published in June and much more detail on how the police will enforce the new regs will obviously become available then.

I think I have answered the questions. We keep offensive weapons legislation under review. We always seek to strike the correct balance between targeting criminals and respecting the activities of law-abiding citizens, but our abiding concern has to be the protection of the public, so by restricting the supply of zombie-style weapons, we are acting in service of that critical aim. The order before us is a proportionate, sensible measure that will further strengthen the Government’s efforts to prevent bloodshed and keep people safe.

Would it be possible before the Minister sits down to ask two questions? My question about the value of a weapon was about whether manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers will be paid the wholesale trade value or the retail value of the weapon, if that is known. More importantly, they will have lists of people who had weapons sold to them, so will they be asked, encouraged or told that they must share their customer list with the police, who in my view should be expected to follow up on that?

On the first part of the question, I do not know the answer. I will have to come back to the noble Lord. I think I tried to answer that when I was talking about the guidance. Obviously, the guidance has yet to be published. The noble Lord is 100% right, of course, that they should have those lists and they should consult them, but, as he knows, operational policing remains independent. The guidance will be published in June, and I think the noble Lord makes a very good point.

Motion agreed.

Official Controls (Fees and Charges) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Official Controls (Fees and Charges) (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Relevant document: 18th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)

My Lords, I hope that it will be helpful to your Lordships if I speak to both the Official Controls (Fees and Charges) (Amendment) Regulations 2024 and the Plant Health (Fees) (England) and Official Controls (Frequency of Checks) (Amendment) Regulations 2024 given that they deliver legislation addressing fees for import controls on UK sanitary and phytosanitary goods under the border target operating model.

Turning first to the Official Controls (Fees and Charges) (Amendment) Regulations 2024, these regulations facilitate flexibility in the application of fees and charging requirements for official controls on sanitary and phytosanitary imports arriving in Great Britain. We have designed a global risk-based import model, BTOM, for sanitary and phytosanitary goods, which will deliver a streamlined approach which protects the public and plant and animal health, boosts our economic growth and minimises friction at the border. This instrument enables the necessary fees and charges for official controls, reflecting the new sanitary and phytosanitary border official controls regimes, as published in the border target operating model.

This instrument introduces flexibility on the composition of fees and charges for official controls while maintaining the requirement of cost recovery. This allows for more comprehensive cost recovery and enables the application of risk factors set out in the BTOM to the fees. This instrument changes the duty to charge to a power to charge by extending the circumstances in which charges may be reduced or waived. The implementation of the BTOM model is reliant on the flexible application of risk, the ongoing financial viability of competent authorities and the proportionate financial liability across stakeholders and operators. Changing the duty facilitates this desired flexibility.

This instrument enables a consistent charging model across any government-run border control post in Great Britain. This will be vital once border control post checks on EU imports are introduced to Wales and Scotland to support trade continuity in all our Administrations. Finally, this instrument enables fees and charges to be levied digitally and away from border control posts. Without this legislation, all sanitary and phytosanitary consignments entering Great Britain would be required to visit a border control post to make payments physically. This would be administratively and operationally unworkable, as it would require all consignments to attend a border control post, not just those selected for an inspection, adding time and burdens for hauliers.

Every effort has been made to ensure these fees and charges distribute costs fairly and proportionately for businesses of all sizes and across all sectors while enabling the Government to fulfil their cost recovery obligations. I am pleased to state that the devolved Administrations have given their consent for these regulations to extend across Great Britain. To summarise, this instrument facilitates the implementation of the border target operating model and is necessary to enable fees and charges to fund the new sanitary and phytosanitary border official controls regime.

Moving on to the second instrument, the Plant Health (Fees) (England) and Official Controls (Frequency of Checks) (Amendment) Regulations 2024, these regulations apply a requirement for risk-based import checks on medium-risk goods from the EU, Switzerland and Lichtenstein from 30 April 2024 as published in the border target operating model. This instrument ensures that certain imported goods are not within scope of this charge, including fruit and vegetables that are currently being treated as low-risk goods while risk assessments are being conducted. It also excludes goods entering Great Britain via a listed west coast port.

Changes are also being made to the fees legislation to reflect the risk-based level of identity, as well as physical and documentary checks on medium-risk goods, to ensure that the cost of plant health services are recovered. Fees are also updated for certain goods from non-EU countries to account for changes in the frequency of checks. Finally, two minor typographical errors regarding import checks are being corrected in the fees legislation.

Checks are currently carried out on high-risk consignments of plants, plant products and other objects imported into Great Britain from the EU, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Checks are also being conducted on regulated goods imported from all other third countries, on a risk basis. GB plant health services carry out these checks and charge for these services accordingly to prevent the introduction and spread of organisms harmful to plants and plant products. This instrument therefore removes the temporary easement that applied after EU exit from import checks of medium-risk plants and plant products imported from the EU, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. These goods will become subject to risk-based checks and the associated fees.

I am pleased to state that the devolved Administrations have given their consent for these regulations to extend across Great Britain—except for Regulations 2 and 3, which relate to fees and apply to England only. Welsh and Scottish Government Ministers laid their equivalent fees legislation earlier this year.

In closing, these regulations ensure that checks are in place from 30 April 2024 to mitigate against any biosecurity risks from certain goods from the EU, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I emphasise that protecting our biosecurity is of paramount importance. By facilitating the implementation of the border target operating model and enabling fees and charges for the relevant import controls, these instruments enhance the operation of the biosecurity regime of Great Britain.

I hope that noble Lords will support these measures and their objectives. I beg to move.

My Lords, I feel I should begin by declaring my fellowship, through the Industry and Parliament Trust, of the Horticultural Trades Association, which is the trade association for environmental horticulture. I am sure the Minister knows this but that is what used to be called ornamental horticulture. The Government have not always shown that they know what this refers to, so I make that clarification.

We are talking about a Brexit cost here. That is what is being inflicted. We have spent several years with people looking around and trying to find Brexit benefits but they have been extremely hard to find on the ground. This is a cost and is particularly likely to impact on small and medium-sized enterprises across Britain.

I would like to make a comment about the timing of this debate, on 18 April. These fees are coming in on 30 April and were announced two weeks ago. That is not a great deal of time for businesses to prepare for and understand what is happening, so I must express my concern.

This is even more crucial in the context of environmental horticulture. Now is the worst possible time for this massive change in the industry to happen. There are a few peak weeks for horticulture when people are planting their gardens in spring and looking forward to summer. This measure will hit the sector extremely hard at this moment. The seasonal peak may last for only a few weeks and this is happening in the middle of it. It would seem that it is too late to make any change to that but I hope the Government acknowledge—this is a question for the Minister—that the industry will be taking on a significant cost at this moment. They should be thinking about what kind of compensation and extra support it needs.

It greatly concerns garden centres, nurseries and other suppliers that there could be delays on 30 April and in the week or so afterwards. We have heard many reports of people importing woody plants, shrubs and perennials en masse beforehand. However, it is not possible to do that with bedding plants and many other smaller plants. What arrangements do the Government have in place to provide compensation should there be significant delays at border posts?

I also have to ask the Minister about what is happening at these border posts. Will the staff be adequately equipped and trained to understand what are often complex loads of lots of different plants? I take as a case study for this Joseph Rochford Gardens in Hertfordshire. Some 15% of its imports come from Italy as loads of plants of many different species and sizes. It is a very skilled job to unpack and repack a load of those plants, making sure that they are not damaged. Will staff be adequately equipped? Are the staff on these inspection posts direct employees or contractors? If they are contractors, how are those contracts going to be overseen?

Another area is of great concern to people in thinking about what is on our supermarket shelves, given the many pressures on food security at the moment. Most soft fruit plants—strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes and fruit trees—are imported by UK growers to produce much of the food that we produce here. It is estimated that this change will add £200 million in costs to the fresh produce sector overall. To put this in concrete terms—this is really quite compelling—100 million EU strawberry plants are imported each year, primarily from Holland, Belgium and Poland. Each load of strawberry plants is worth up to £100,000. The plants are grown to order. One truck being delayed, with one hold-up in the system, would not only mean a loss of £100,000-worth of plants; the grower would not be able to replace them. The grower could potentially end up with fields left vacant because there is no source for those plants.

I come back to the question of what compensation the Government are prepared to make if that situation should unfortunately arise. I stress that concerns about this have been expressed by British Apples and Pears, the British Tomato Growers’ Association and British Berry Growers. What consultation has the Minister had with those groups to make sure that they are at least as well informed as they can be? Will that be ongoing in the first days and weeks when this measure is implemented?

I conclude by acknowledging that there is huge concern about biosecurity. In the age of the climate emergency and globalisation, the risks of bacterial, fungal and vector-borne diseases are growing exponentially. This means that, ultimately, we have to think about reducing the flow and having many more nurseries. There is a huge commercial opportunity here to have this growing happening in the UK so that we do not have to move plants around. I hope that the Government are looking at that; anything the Minister can say on that will be helpful.

On the biosecurity point, I know that there is great concern. I have spoken to nursery owners. The British Tomato Growers’ Association said about the inspection points that we are introducing a significant point of infection. We have lorries being unloaded side by side. We hope that the plants are not being mixed but we all know that perfect things do not happen in warehouses—I worked in a warehouse many years ago—and there is a risk that the new inspection points could be a place where biosecurity is breached and diseases are spread. Again, there is a question around compensation.

Finally, my understanding—I stand to be corrected if I am wrong about this—is that the rates in the SIs we are debating now cover only the points of entry at Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover. Other commercial entry points—about 30 of them—are setting their own rates. Can the Minister tell me anything about what those rates will be? Are they paralleling these rates, in essence, or are they higher? Of course, it is very difficult for companies to move from one supply chain to another so what is the situation there, particularly for small and medium enterprises? I stress that supermarkets and big commercial companies will be able to pass on these costs but that is often not the case for small and medium-sized enterprises. This is of great concern to many sectors in that small and medium-sized business area.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to these two statutory instruments. On the face of it, they seem fairly straightforward and relate to the border target operating model. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has flagged that this is a matter of interest to the House.

The first instrument relates to sanitary and phytosanitary border controls—SPS. The second relates to SPS controls applying to imports of live animals, animal products, high-risk food and feed of non-animal origin, plants and plant products at the border. This second SI contains a large and potentially complex list of products; however, the instrument appears to deal only with plants and plant products. Also, the risk-based import checks on medium-risk goods applies to goods from some countries that are EU member states, as well as Liechtenstein and Switzerland. These countries’ goods that are not within scope include fruit and vegetables, which are currently treated as low risk.

I have some questions about these two instruments and wish to ask for some clarification. Paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum for the first instrument, on fees and charges, states:

“This instrument changes the duty to charge to a power to charge by extending the circumstances in which the CA”—

competent authority—

“may reduce charges or waive them altogether”.

The Minister has mentioned this already. I am concerned that, if the charge is waived, it could mean that the imported product would be cheaper than a homegrown or home-produced one, which would disadvantage our farmers and horticulturalists. Can the Minister provide reassurance on this issue?

The ability to waive charges also seems at odds with the second instrument, on official charges and frequency of checks. Paragraph 7.2 of its EM states:

“Changes are being made to the fees legislation to reflect the level of identity and physical checks determined in accordance with the 2022 Regulations … ensuring the full cost of services to conduct import checks are recovered from businesses using these services”.

Further on, the last sentence of paragraph 7.4 says:

“The existing fees legislation ensures that the cost of plant health services, including import inspections, is recovered via fees”.

Either the fees are to be charged on a cost-recovery basis or they can be reduced—or waived altogether. Perhaps one SI legislates for full cost recovery while the other allows for the waiving of fees and charges. Can the Minister give clarity on this issue?

Paragraph 7.4 of the first instrument’s EM states that

“not all consignments will … attend a BCP”—

a border control post. It also says that fees and charges can be levied digitally and away from the BCP. Some have raised concerns that this may not be safe and that consignments should be capable of being inspected at the BCP. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, also raised concerns about the security of plants. Can the Minister comment?

Consultation through targeted stakeholders ran for 10 weeks. The second instrument’s EM indicates:

“The respondents were generally supportive”.

I have read the letter from Defra, dated 24 February, on the consultation responses; I have also looked at the responses online. There were three. Two were from Scottish businesses that raised no concerns. The third was from the NFU; it highlighted its concern about the flat rate fee for plants for planting, which should be extended to include bulbs for planting, and the definition of the final user. Defra’s response to the NFU was that its concerns are outside the scope of the consultation as the instrument is for medium-risk goods while bulbs are high-risk goods. On this basis, we are told that the consultation response was “generally supportive”, which just goes to show that, with a bit of ingenuity, you can make a consultation give whatever response you want it to.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised concerns about the common user charge, which is to be introduced later this year and does not require legislation. This means that there will be no parliamentary oversight of the charge, its impact and whether it will be draconian or not likely to actually cover the costs of implementation. Would the Minister care to comment on the introduction of this common user charge?

I am not opposed to these two SIs, but I am somewhat dismayed by the way in which they are being introduced and the lack of clarity over the implementation of the charges and fees. I look forward to the Minister’s clarification.

My Lords, looking first at the Official Controls (Fees and Charges) (Amendment) Regulations in front of us, previous speakers have clearly raised concerns about BTOM. I have also done so in the past; the Minister and I have discussed this in the Chamber previously. However, with this SI, we are particularly concerned about the potential impact on small businesses and the fact that the charges also need to be considered in the broader context of the increased charges, particularly for small businesses, since we left the EU. I am aware that the Government believe that there is not going to be any serious impact on small businesses but our concerns come from within that broader context, because we know that British importers have been paying further costs over the last few years since we moved to the new system of trade with the EU.

Around 30% of the food that we consume in the UK comes from the EU, so it is incredibly important that, when we bring in new systems, we avoid any confusion, chaos or delays. It would be useful to hear reassurances from the Minister on these issues because small businesses are particularly worried about this, as well as the increased costs. Once you start getting delays, as I am sure the Minister knows, they have a huge impact on perishable fresh produce. How confident is the Minister that this can go through smoothly?

The British Chambers of Commerce has complained to the Government about the lack of communication and information provided. How has the Minister’s department been working with businesses, particularly small businesses, on improving the communications and information that chambers of commerce have raised concerns about? What clarifications have been provided following the concerns raised?

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked about the fact that this provides competent authorities with greater flexibility to determine fees and charges, and that this is now on a recovery basis. She asked some questions around that, but I just wondered if there are any precedents for recovery like this, with fees and charges being done on a cost-recovery basis. What are the precedents around that?

The other thing I was going to raise also applies, to a certain extent, to the plant health SI and is around the lack of consultation. I am aware that there is no statutory duty to consult on this issue but, considering the number of concerns that have been raised around BTOM and its rollout, including the very late announcement of the common user charge, I wonder whether the department might have followed a different process, with the benefit of hindsight. It could have done a bit more consultation with industry to avoid those concerns and late rollouts. In future, when looking at the different trade mechanisms that will need to come in, will it perhaps look more broadly at working with business at an earlier stage to avoid some of the, shall we say, glitches that have happened?

I agree with very much with what both noble Baronesses have said already on the draft plant health fees statutory instrument, so I will not go into great detail. The concerns of the Horticultural Trades Association have been clearly laid out: the impact of the volume of checks that will be required and whether that will lead to further delays. The importance of the horticultural sector to our economy needs greater recognition. It would be good if the Minister could give some indication to the Horticultural Trades Association on ornamental horticulture, plus vine horticulture, tomatoes, and others. We have seen gaps on our supermarkets shelves in recent years. It would be very good if our horticultural sector was better supported and encouraged.

One last thing: I have previously talked about the concerns about Dover not being listed as a relevant port and the checks being moved inland. When this SI was debated in the other place, Natalie Elphicke MP, who represents Dover as part of her constituency, said that she was extremely concerned that the regulations failed to list Dover as a relevant port. The Minister and others have explained what they think will happen and how it all will work, but she felt—and I agree—that there is still an unanswered question as to exactly why this decision was made, and the implications for the Port of Dover itself.

My Lords, again, I thank all noble Lords and—almost exclusively—Baronesses for their valuable contributions to this debate. I laid out the need for this SI in my opening remarks. I will try to address some of the questions and concerns that have been raised.

I will turn first to the issue of Dover, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, raised. It is a really important point that has been conflated in multiple different ways, and is being used rather unhelpfully to demonstrate what is not happening. Before the introduction of the BTOM, the Government provided a level of financial and other support to Dover Port Health Authority to assist with checks at the Port of Dover for the narrow straits. That was a significant sum of money: £3.5 million a year, and quite a lot of additional bits and pieces.

At the time of developing the BTOM model, we looked very carefully at how it might work at the Port of Dover. We explored the Bastion Point option, which is also quite close to the Port of Dover but not actually there. We also looked very closely at Sevington, which, as we all know, is some 21 or 22 miles further up the road. The analysis and outcome of that very detailed process showed extremely clearly that it is impossible to have a border control post at Dover.

We could have gone with a combined Bastion Point and Sevington option, but if anybody has been to Bastion Point, they will know that it is in an industrial park just outside Dover and that the access is terrible. The confusion would be appalling and the cost to have a split facility would be much greater, so the decision was taken to take the whole border control post to Sevington.

I get questioned a lot that this does not make any sense, because Sevington is 22 miles away. How on earth can that be safe? This is where the conflation of different thoughts and ideas comes together, and it needs to be disentangled. Anybody importing several pigs in the back of a white van that have been slaughtered in Poland is not going to comply with our import controls. They are not going to sign up with an IPAFFS, get a veterinary certificate, register on the system and come into the Port of Dover, saying, “Here I am; do I go to Sevington or do I carry on?” as part of our risk-based model for all other products. These are illegal imports, which are dealt with by Border Force, not border control posts. We have been funding Border Force in the Dover Port Health Authority to deal with that issue, which is largely around African swine fever and pigs—the pork industry.

Border Force also deals with drugs, guns and a range of other things, so the Dover Port Health Authority has been supported financially to assist Border Force. We are now taking the new function of the risk-based border target operating model and moving it away from the Port of Dover, because it cannot be done there, given the logistics of large lorries having to be checked at the port. The whole thing would be clogged from end to end: it would simply not be possible. I accept that, if we were starting this entire process with a clean piece of paper and no infrastructure on the south coast of England, we would probably not do it this way. But, in the absence of being able to flatten Dover and build a border control post there, we really do not have many options.

I am very sympathetic to Natalie Elphicke’s issues at Dover. In all honesty, it has been a real challenge dealing with the port health authority and the council down there—they have been extraordinarily unco-operative and, in my opinion, have deliberately provided misinformation about the fact that we are reducing the £3.5 million to £1.5 million because we are taking that whole function away from them and asking them, with the residual £1.5 million, to provide a different level of support to the Border Force arrangements at Dover. These are very separate issues. I know it takes a while to get your head round them, and it does not sound very intuitive, but it is important to try to get those two bits and pieces disentangled.

I am very happy to take any other questions on Dover, Sevington and what we are doing down there as a separate issue; I will not clog up today’s debate any further on that.

I will start by addressing the general concerns expressed about consultation, particularly with the Horticultural Trades Association and others. There has been, as I think everybody will recognise, extensive consultation on this. It predates my time in office very considerably and, since I took up office at the end of last year, I forget how many conversations and meetings I have had with the HTA. The chairman of the HTA, James Barnes, is a friend of mine who rings me up pretty much daily on this issue. I am acutely aware that this issue is of concern to the association, but we have signalled that we would do this for a very long time. In fact, we have had several false starts, so this should not be any surprise to anybody.

Furthermore, I have been explicit in all of those consultations with the HTA and others that this is not nought to 60 in one go: we are not going from nothing to everything in one go. We are looking to phase in a way of improving biosecurity on goods coming into this country. We will take a pragmatic approach to that process and we are in control of the number of people we pull in for inspections. We will not pull in everybody for inspection on day 1, because this will obviously take a little time to bed in.

I have been down to Sevington, looked at the facilities there and spoken to the staff. I have looked at the training being given to them, which is a concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, who asked, “Who does this? Is it just a random person?” No, we have done a lot of training and a lot of work has gone into this. So we are ready for business at Sevington, which is the main short straits point. It really has been an extensive exercise in communications training. We have done a lot of recruitment and built a purpose-built facility at Sevington for this. I have been down there, and noble Lords are welcome to come down and have a look at it. It really is incredibly impressive. If they visited, I hope it would allay many of the concerns raised about possible cross-contamination or delays or issues that will go on in that space, because it will take a bit of bedding in. I am not saying it will be entirely smooth on day 1, but we have put an awful lot of effort into this.

Just to go back to conversations with the HTA, one of the things we put in place is a hotline with the team in Defra directly to the HTA and the NFU, for the week preceding 30 April and any amount of time thereafter until those concerns are allayed, to say, “Look, we know we’re going to get some teething problems here, so let’s get them fed in directly”, so that we have the process in place to unravel those difficulties and smooth them through. Absolutely the last thing the Government want to do is to create a delay to trade, which would cause all the sorts of issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised, which would then cause issues around compensation and all the rest of it. We do not want to go there. We want to manage the process and build it up slowly. We will definitely go through a bedding-in process here. We will not go from one end of the spectrum to the other in one go.

I hope that that general background allays some of those concerns. Again, I would be delighted to take any further questions. If anybody would like to, I suggest a visit to any of those facilities so that noble Lords can look for themselves.

I put my hands up on the common user charge: I totally accept that it is late in the day for letting these guys know. I have been in business—I ran a retail business for 15 years—and I cannot comprehend how the Government thought it would be a good idea to let these guys know just six weeks beforehand. It has happened; we cannot go backwards; it is there. In mitigation, it is within the consultation parameters that were set, and what was coming was pretty well signalled to everybody. We have put a cap on those charges to allay some of the fears that were rightly expressed by a lot of those organisations.

There were a number of comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on the charges, full cost recovery and the waiving of charges. What I have in my notes on the question of whether the SI removes the commitment of competent authorities to do cost recovery is that the answer is no. There is still a commitment to cost recovery. The existing provisions in the official control regulations also still specify that charges should not exceed costs. This remains untouched, so it is not a profit-making exercise.

To reference that back to the other questions on what happens at non-governmental border control posts, commercial operators elsewhere are free to set their charges where they want. They have obviously all been waiting to see what our common user charge is; they will want to align with that because, if they do not, people will simply choose not to go there. If they simply price themselves out of the market, that will not work. Our analysis of our own cost recovery process should be comparable to their own. I think that the charges are in the right place. They will also remain under review on a very regular basis, following the first tranche of information that we get.

I hope that that also answers the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on the impact on smaller businesses. This is a flat charge across all businesses; it does not differentiate between large or small, but we hope that it is within the right range.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked a number of questions around readiness for 30 April. I hope I addressed them in my earlier comments. Again, if there are any questions that she would like to ask on that or the staffing arrangements, I would be very happy to take them.

That covers all the questions that I have written down here, I think. If I have missed anybody’s questions, I will of course be delighted to write to them in future. I hope everybody shares my view that these instruments are absolutely necessary. As I have outlined, they facilitate the implementation of the border target operating model, which I think we have all agreed is a necessary biosecurity process, and are necessary to enable the relevant import controls and associated fees on imported sanitary and phytosanitary goods.

With that, I commend these instruments to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Plant Health (Fees) (England) and Official Controls (Frequency of Checks) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Plant Health (Fees) (England) and Official Controls (Frequency of Checks) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Relevant document: 18th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)

Motion agreed.

Veterinary Medicines (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2024

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Veterinary Medicines (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2024.

Relevant document: 18th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, these regulations were laid in draft before the House on 4 March. They seek to amend the legislative regime for veterinary medicines set out in the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013 in respect of Great Britain. The amendments will ensure that the law is fit for purpose to protect animal health, public health and the environment.

We are a nation of animal lovers. Veterinary medicines play a vital role in helping vets and those looking after our animals to maintain their health and welfare. As well as benefiting our much-loved companion animals, medicines also play an important role in supporting the farming industry to maintain the health and welfare of their livestock. This is pivotal to the UK’s food supply. Veterinary medicines are, by necessity, highly regulated goods. Their quality, safety and effectiveness are assured by controls on their manufacture, marketing, supply and use, which are set out in the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013.

However, these regulations require updating to reflect changes and technical advances in industry, to future-proof the regulatory regime and to reduce regulatory burden where possible. I believe that the length of this instrument, at 89 pages, gives an indication of the necessity of such an update. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not go into the full details of all the changes, many of which are very technical; instead, I will summarise the rationale behind some of the most significant amendments.

To market a medicine in the UK, a pharmaceutical company needs authorisation for that medicine from the regulator. A large number of the amendments relate to changes in the requirements for companies that hold such authorisations. These regulations apply in Great Britain but will also facilitate the UK-wide marketing of products. The changes will bring Great Britain’s regulatory regime closer to the EU’s, but it is not simply the case that we are just accepting EU rules. My department actively proposed and participated in the discussions on changes to the EU law when we were a member state and it was always the expectation that these changes would apply in the UK too. Leaving the EU, however, has allowed a more flexible approach to updating our legislation.

The changes to marketing authorisation requirements have been requested and are supported by the pharmaceutical companies themselves. They will allow those companies to submit a similar dossier supporting their application for marketing authorisation to my department, to the European Medicines Agency and to EU member states in order to obtain authorisations in both the UK and the EU. This provides for a consistency in technical and data requirements and is vital in ensuring that the UK remains a competitive and attractive global market for veterinary medicines.

The amendments will also make it possible for companies to use common packaging across the UK. This will reduce unnecessary administrative and regulatory burden on industry and will help ensure that these companies continue to market medicines across the UK.

The instrument also amends the requirements related to where such companies must be based to reflect the current practice of global companies having a European base to market medicines across the European region. This provides a regulatory pathway in the regulations that will allow companies based in the EU to continue to market medicines in the UK to ensure the continued availability of medicines here.

For manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors of veterinary medicines, amendments include, for example, the introduction of a registration scheme for manufacturers, distributors and importers of active pharmaceutical ingredients. This will ensure that we have greater oversight in the use of these important, but potentially hazardous, chemicals, which in turn will maximise our ability to take appropriate action in the case of a safety concern or supply shortage.

We encourage appropriate and responsible prescription and supply of veterinary medicines with the amendments, for example, by enhancing the information that must be recorded by prescribers when prescribing medicines. A number of these changes form part of the Government’s plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance to protect human and animal health. Our changes are intended to secure the UK’s significant reductions in antibiotic use in food-producing animals. The legislation will make it very clear that antibiotics are not to be used routinely or to compensate for poor farming practices. The changes will prevent the general use of antibiotics in healthy animals, with exceptions made for where the risk of disease is very high and the consequences likely to be severe. The Third UK One Health Report showed that in 2019 about two-thirds of antibiotics in the UK were for use in humans, compared to one-third in animals. Our antibiotic usage in animals is already lower than in all other European countries with comparably large agriculture sectors. We are keen to maintain a collaborative approach with vets and farmers to ensure a continued and sustainable reduction in antibiotic use. This approach has already led to a 59% reduction in use since 2014.

Other changes include updates to the fees that the regulator charges to industry to undertake its functions. The regulator, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, is a cost-recovery agency, and it is right and proper that the fees are amended to reflect the true cost of providing its regulatory services. These fees have not been updated in more than 10 years.

In conclusion, veterinary medicines are essential to the health and welfare of our animals and to supporting the farming sector in rearing food-producing animals. I hope noble Lords will agree that this instrument is vital to ensuring the continued supply of safe and beneficial medicines while ensuring that my department continues to have effective oversight of how these medicines are manufactured, supplied and used. This includes changes to support our efforts to reduce the development and spread of antimicrobial resistance by further reducing unnecessary use of antibiotics in animals. I hope noble Lords will support these changes. I beg to move.

My Lords, first, I say a warm welcome to these new regulations, which are in general welcomed by the veterinary pharmaceutical industry and, I should also say, by the veterinary profession in general, because they are the first major revision of veterinary medicine regulations since 2013. Given the pace of change, technological innovation, pharmacological developments, environmental awareness and, particularly, our increasing awareness of the importance of antimicrobial resistance, these regulations are very timely and welcome.

According to the National Office of Animal Health, the umbrella organisation covering 97% of the UK veterinary pharmaceutical market, the annual sales of veterinary drugs in the UK amount to about £745 million. That is a substantial market and of critical importance, of course, to the health and welfare of animals, food safety and public health. But it is important to recognise as well that, in global terms, this is a relatively small market; thus our alignment, as far as possible, with international standards and requirements is very important to ensure that a full range of products—not only drugs but, critically, vaccines as well—is able to be marketed economically in the UK for the benefit of animals.

In this respect, a general feature of these new regulations is that they rationalise and improve alignment with many aspects of international practice. They attempt to reduce the burdens and obstacles to the global pharmaceutical industry in making veterinary products more readily available on the UK market, which is a very good thing. More specifically, they improve alignment with EU regulations. I hope that this will have a positive effect on the imminent negotiations with the EU to ensure the continuing supply of veterinary medicines to Northern Ireland, for which there is no agreement yet under the Windsor Framework, and which are subject to a temporary grace period. That expires at the end of 2025, which potentially will have quite serious repercussions and lead to quite serious reductions in the availability of veterinary pharmaceutical products for both livestock and companion animals, unless a new agreement is reached.

The regulations involve a number of changes with regard to market authorisation application. Those changes should increase the alignment to facilitate the submission of one dossier to more than one territory, while simplifying labelling and packaging requirements. This should help to optimise the availability of products across the devolved nations of the UK and, indeed, across Europe. A major feature of the regulations is to update controls with regard to antimicrobial marketing, prescribing and classification to help reduce the risk of the development of antimicrobial resistance. There will be further restrictions on the prescription of antibiotic veterinary medicines, so that they are not used routinely as compensation for poor hygiene and low standards in animal husbandry and management practices. That is all an extremely positive development.

It is worth repeating, though, that antibiotics have been banned for use as growth promoters in the UK since 2006. Critically, and of specific importance, is the prohibition of antibiotic usage for any prophylactic purpose except in exceptional circumstances. There is a requirement in these regulations to justify the prescribing of antibiotics in such exceptional circumstances by recording them and making it necessary to conduct a veterinary review of management practices to ensure that there is no recurring need for antibiotic use, where possible.

With regard to antibiotic usage in medicated feed, there is a limit prescribed in the regulations on the time between antibiotics being prescribed and treatment being started, which has been set at no more than five working days. It has been pointed out to me by the aquaculture industry in Scotland, for example, that, given the distances between medicated feed manufacturers and, say, the needs of a salmon farm in the northern Shetland Isles, that five-day period is rather restrictive and may be challenging. I ask the Minister: could such practical issues be taken into account when interpreting that requirement?

I strongly welcome the requirement that:

“No person must supply or offer to supply”

veterinary medicinal products,

“by means of the internet to persons in Great Britain, unless”,

the supplier is “established”


“has an address within Great Britain”.

This will enable our authorities to have some control over the quality and nature of veterinary products offered online within the UK.

However, I note that it places no restriction on an animal keeper in the UK buying and giving to animals any product obtained online from any supplier anywhere in the world. I am not a lawyer, but does this not constitute a serious loophole that could threaten animal health and welfare?

I suggest that there are some other missed opportunities with the new regulations, which one hopes may be addressed in time and indeed remedied. First, with respect to antibiotic resistance, the regulations, unlike those in the EU, do not require mandatory recording of antibiotic usage. While there is recording of usage in the UK, it is voluntary and patchy, and data on sales is required to be collected and provided by the pharmaceutical companies. This does not provide accurate data on usage, and what we can measure, we can control better. However, the prescribing of antibiotics, which must be by a veterinary surgeon, is always recorded for the purpose of billing clients. What consideration have His Majesty’s Government given to collecting antibiotic usage data through the clinical recording systems that every practice has and uses for the purposes of charging its clients?

With regard to drug resistance more generally, we have widespread problems and problems of environmental contamination with regard to anthelmintic worming products, ectoparasiticides and systemic products for the control of fleas and ticks and so on. What consideration have the Government given to restricting further in these regulations the classifications of these valuable pharmaceuticals in a way similar to the regulations for antimicrobial medicines?

In that context, I note the Government’s concern about the environmental contamination of aquatic environments with companion animal ectoparasiticides and the formation of a cross-governmental group called pharmaceuticals in the environment. However, I look forward to future measures to reduce the pollution of aquatic environments with ectoparasiticides such as fipronil and imidacloprid.

In general, and in conclusion, these regulations are to be welcomed, and I am pleased to support them.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for presenting the regulations before us this afternoon, which are very welcome. I have one issue to raise with him. I declare my interest as an honorary associate of the British Veterinary Association.

The British Veterinary Association’s response to the original consultation touches a little on the demands being made on veterinary practices in the context of the regulations, which the noble Lord, Lord Trees, referred to. It responded on the requirement to provide information that, essentially, the Government should be mindful of the pressures on smaller practices that have limited administrative resources and that while vets are willing and happy to provide information, the cost and administrative burdens need to be taken into account. I hope that is something that my noble friend will give me some reassurance on in the Committee this afternoon. We learn from paragraphs 12.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum that the annual net direct cost to business of the regulations is expected to be £2.5 million. Paragraph 12.3 states that as the level of impact is less than £5 million, it was agreed to carry out a de minimis assessment not a full impact assessment. What assessment has the department made of the pressure on small practices, in particular, in applying the new provisions in the regulations? Who will end up paying the ultimate price for this?

I am grateful to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for its analysis of the regulations. It also refers to the fact that the direct cost to business will be £2.5 million per year and asks whether this will lead to higher prices for veterinary medicines. What impact do my noble friend and the department think this will have on the end user, in particular, either the small pet owner or, more specifically, the farmer, bearing in mind that farmers, particularly since 2001, have faced an increase in other on-costs? They are under great pressure, and many of them, particularly smaller and mixed farmers and those who specialise in livestock production, are going to find it very difficult to fund this.

We are speaking at a very happy time of year when we see lots of lambs and calves being born, but there are veterinary costs associated with that. I am mindful of this, having recently sat next to a local farmer who called out the vet for a stillborn calf and obviously had to pay all the veterinary costs. The mother survived, but they lost the calf. I would be grateful if my noble friend could respond on those two specific points: whether small practices have been considered when it comes to bearing the costs and whether farmers are expected to carry the additional cost of £2.5 million per year going forward.

My Lords, in rising fairly briefly, I should declare the support I receive from the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, as set out in the register. I join the noble Lord, Lord Trees, in welcoming further restrictions on antibiotic use in that context. I do a great deal of work with BSAC on antimicrobial resistance. I remain concerned about any exception for prophylactic use. We are talking in a context where factory farming organisations have said that they need to keep using antibiotics because their operations cannot operate without them. I have a direct question for the Minister. We are coming up to the refresh of the national action plan on antimicrobial resistance after its five years in operation since 2019. Are the Government prepared and thinking about how, working with that plan, there may need to be further restrictions, particularly on the use of antibiotics in veterinary medicine in the light of the threat that antimicrobial resistance presents? This is reflected in the fact that the General Assembly is having a high-level meeting in September on antimicrobial resistance. It is a huge global issue. I acknowledge that the UK has been leading on this. None the less, it is still very clear that we are not anywhere near where we need to be to save the antibiotics that we desperately need for human health. We have to approach all this from a One Health perspective thinking of human, animal and environmental health all going together.

In the light of that, there are a couple of things that I particularly want to raise. One is anthelmintics and their impact on environmental health, particularly insect life in streams and rivers and indeed in the soil, dung beetles being the obvious example here. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to comment on any steps that the Government are planning to take to address that One Health issue.

The other issue that is fast rising up the agenda is spot on flea and tick treatments, which are a significant source of pesticide pollution in rivers. I can cite a recent study from the University of Sussex and Imperial College published in Science of The Total Environment, looking in particular at fipronil and imidacloprid—forgive my pronunciation—both of which have been banned from outdoor agriculture but are still used in spot on flea and tick treatments. This study and others found significant wastewater that had passed through sewage treatment works and was extremely harmful to wildlife; these are potent neurotoxic insecticides. One study found fipronil in 98% and the other chemical in 66% of fresh water. I am aware that the British Veterinary Association has brought out some new guidelines and is seeking at least to reduce somewhat the usage of these treatments but, given that we have about 22 million dogs and cats in the UK, are the Government really looking into this?

Finally, I also reflect the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Trees. We all know now that we are in a global market for everything through the internet. Are the Government looking at and monitoring the extent to which veterinary medicines that should not come into the UK, or should not be used without proper supervision in the UK, are coming in through that potential internet back door?

I draw your Lordships’ attention to my entry in the register, as I work for a large independent vet group with both companion animal and production animal vets. The vets I work with generally welcome this timely update of the Veterinary Medicines Regulations. They acknowledge that they have been listened too during the consultation process and that changes have been made to update the regulations. Some are disappointed that the regulations have moved further away from the EU regulations. Others have commented that, although the EU regulations appear to be more restrictive, they will be interpreted in very different ways over the 27 countries, and we would have interpreted them in some ways, too.

Some have also commented that we have possibly missed an opportunity to update the regulations with regard to the impact of drugs on the environment, to echo the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. That refers not only to the relationships between the individual vets prescribing the drugs but to the end-user of the drug and how this impacts on the environment. I reiterate the comments regarding spot on treatments and the result in watercourses. I will not try to pronounce the names of the drugs.

Concern remains regarding the amendment to paragraph 19 on the prescribing of medical products contained within feeds, which the noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned. The regulation states that

“the time between a prescription being issued and the course of treatment starting must be no more than five working days”.

This has been changed from the original regulation, which is appreciated, but there is still concern that manufacturers have no control over when the treatment starts, and the logistical challenges that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, mentioned of manufacturing feedstuffs, transporting them to the farms and feeding them to the animals. It is in farmers’ interests to feed this medicated feed to their animals as quickly as possible to treat the respective infection, but it seems unreasonable to create a situation where a manufacturer of feeds could be in breach of the regulations simply because a feed has not been fed to the animal within five working days. A feed manufacturer should certainly be held to account if a feed has not been distributed to the farmer within five working days. Therefore, could the Minister relook at amending the wording to say, for example, “distributed to final location” or “left the manufacturing premises within five working days”?

The second area of concern is new paragraph 7A, which relates to

“Duties in relation to prescribing of antibiotic veterinary medicinal products”

for prophylactic purpose. For some, the wording of this new paragraph does not go far enough; they would have liked a total ban of the prescribing of antibiotics. I know from discussions that other veterinary surgeons in the production animal sector accept that the wording is reasonable in this new paragraph to protect animal health and welfare, but concerns have been raised about how it will be interpreted and set out in the guidelines that will follow the implementation of this statutory instrument, with special reference to the words “exceptional circumstances” and what will be allowed. There are many interpretations of what “exceptional” means, both by individuals and by organisations. This could lead to veterinary surgeons breaking regulations when all they are trying to do is protect animal health and welfare and comply with their professional code of conduct.

Certain infectious diseases, such as strep meningitis in pigs, are very complex and can take many months to be eradicated from herds. Vets acknowledge that the prescription of antibiotics is not the only solution to eradicate infectious diseases in herds of animals. Other changes that can improve the conditions of animals, reduce the spread of infection and reduce the likelihood of infections recurring include husbandry changes, improved building ventilation and the possible building of new housing. All of these actions take time to take effect. In the meantime, vets need to address the animal health of the herd in question, possibly by prescribing antibiotics in a prophylactic way on a regular basis for a few months, as they know that the disease is present and needs to be controlled—sometimes before clinical signs are shown in individual animals or within a herd.

As has been mentioned previously, farmers and vets have moved a long way with regard to the use of antibiotics. Both parties do not want to use antibiotics unnecessarily, but there is a concern that, if a programme of regular use of antibiotics via medicated feed is required for welfare reasons, this may be interpretated as a breach of the regulations by the VMD. Although vets have been given reassurance in the current discussions with the VMD that these situations will not be seen as a breach of the regulations, there is concern that, as time moves on, personnel change and the interpretation of the policy changes. This may result in vets being accused of breaching the regulations, possibly to the detriment of animal health and welfare. Will the Minister raise these concerns with the VMD and his department to ensure that we continue to focus on the reduction of antibiotic use, while still maintaining animal welfare, and ensure that veterinary surgeons can continue to uphold their oath and comply with these regulations without the fear of breaching them?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this important statutory instrument. I am grateful to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for drawing it to the attention of the Committee.

This important statutory instrument ensures the quality, safety and efficacy of veterinary medicines as regulated by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the VMD. The Veterinary Medicines Regulations have not been updated since 2013, when the fee base was also set, so there is quite a lot of inflation to consider in terms of fees and costs, alongside scientific innovation. The main thrust of the SI is an attempt to reduce the risk of the development and spread of antibiotic resistance, which I welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, has raised this issue many times in the Chamber, as well as this afternoon.

Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, I do not have extensive knowledge of the issues we are debating. Not being a vet or having anything to do with animals, whether domestic or destined for the food chain, my only contact with the veterinary profession is taking my dog to be stitched up after an overenthusiastic race through the woods or going to renew his regular preventive medication. I was, however, privileged to visit a veterinary hospital run by Anderson Moores last October. It was an extraordinary experience. The hospital is extremely modern and does very complex surgery on a range of animals. This particular hospital lent ventilators to the overstretched local NHS hospital during the Covid outbreak.

Although I fully support this SI, I have a number of questions for clarification. Most of them relate to paragraph 7 of the Explanatory Memorandum. Paragraph 7.1 refers to making more than 200 amendments to the VMR, including fee changes. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee asked whether these changes would lead to higher prices for veterinary practices. The answer from Defra referred to the private nature of veterinary practices. I interpreted that as a “don’t know” in terms of whether Defra actually knew whether the changes would increase prices. I will return to this issue later.

Paragraph 7.2 makes it clear that vets are required

“to provide owners of food-producing animals with records as soon as reasonably practical after administering a medicine”

with a record of that medicine, when it should be taken and the lapse of time after taking the medicine before the animals can enter the food chain. This is clear and reassuring. However, I ask the Minister whether this is what currently happens or less stringent measures are currently in place. Will this change be an additional burden?

Many of the requirements under section 7 place added burdens on marketing, manufacturers, wholesalers and keepers of food-producing animals. These relate mostly to limiting the spread of antibiotic resistance. Paragraph 7.4 of the EM refers to an inspector seizing items that may breach regulations. Can the Minister give an example of where and at what point in the chain this might happen?

Paragraph 7.6 gives a lot of detail. Sub-paragraph (e) removes the need

“to renew a marketing authorisation after five years”.

That is excellent but sub-paragraph (h) requires marketing authorisation holders to submit an annual report. Is this a contradiction or have I misunderstood it?

Paragraph 7.7 deals with Schedule 2 to the VMR. Sub-paragraph (f) extends

“the authorisation and inspection requirements for equine stem cell centres to bring all stem cell centres for non-food-producing animal species under regulatory oversight”.

What happens in those stem cell centres now?

Paragraph 7.8 has a whole list of requirements and changes to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance. I fully support these but there is obviously going to be a cost element to this. Sub-paragraph (f) refers to a suitably qualified person being present when medicines are handed over. This appears to indicate that the veterinary profession is suffering from a lack of pharmacy specialists, similar to the experience of high street chemists.

Sub-paragraph (g) refers to

“restricting the prescription of antibiotic veterinary medicines”.

This has been referred to. Does it apply only to animals entering the food chain or to domestic pets as well? Is this restriction likely to lead to unnecessary suffering by some animals?

I fully support sub-paragraph (h), which prohibits

“the prescription of antibiotics for prophylactic purposes … except in exceptional circumstances”.

We have heard two cases of where there may not need to be exceptional circumstances.

Lastly, paragraph 7.12 refers to the VDM as a “cost-recovery agency”. Since it has been 11 years since the fees were set, there is quite a lot of inflation to consider when setting new fees and charges.

That brings me on to section 12, which has already been referred to. It indicates that, as the annual net cost to business is likely to be £2.5 million per year, no impact assessment has been produced. The limit for the production of an IA is £5 million per annum. With such a wholesale overhaul of the treatment of veterinary medicines and the new administrative burdens to be introduced, coupled with the increased cost of the medicines themselves, I would have thought that the cost could be much higher than £2.5 million. The effect on small businesses and large chains of veterinary practices is likely to be considerable. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, raised this issue. I admit that I have not read the sections of the de minimis assessment that cover small and micro businesses and the impact on medium businesses—nor do I have somebody working for me who would do this—but I seek the Minister’s assurance that the true effect on businesses involved in veterinary medicines has been carefully and accurately calculated.

I turn now to section 10 on the public consultation, which ran for eight weeks up to 31 March last year and received 188 responses from a wide representation of stakeholders. Although I feel that 74 questions was a considerable number for consultees to complete, it indicates that the consultation was thorough. However, I fear that the areas where the VDM was proposing to be influenced by the consultation or otherwise were confusing. There is this phrase at 10.3:

“The main areas where we have decided to amend or not implement the proposed changes relate to”.

It is followed by a list, including in the first bullet point the phrase,

“we have decided to not implement”.

That is not quite the way I would have put it, but I get the general drift.

Lastly, I note that the guidance will be amended on the changes to the VMR and will be available to stakeholders shortly. I am sure that, given the considerable changes being made, this will be welcomed by those having regard to the implementation of this instrument.

I apologise to the Minister for the number of questions I have asked and points I have made but it would be helpful to have answers to these questions. I believe that this is a very important instrument; I support it, as it will make a real difference to the way in which animal medicines and feeds are administered for the benefit of food-producing and other animals.

My Lords, I start by welcoming this statutory instrument. It makes more than 200 changes to the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013; there is a very long list of changes under quite a number of headings. I start by congratulating the Minister on his introduction, which was both clear and succinct. We all appreciated that, I think.

This week, I received an email from NOAH asking for our support in passing these new regulations because it considers them absolutely crucial. We have also heard that from noble Lords today. The reasons why it thinks they are crucial are, first, because the current regulatory framework is not fit for purpose; the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned that it had not been changed since 2013 so this is well overdue. Secondly, animal health businesses and the UK regulatory authority, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate—we heard about it from other Members—really need this legislation to progress in order to support confidence and investment in the sector. The third reason why it is very supportive is because, as it rightly says, the animal health industry is high-value, high-growth and a highly skilled sector that contributes significantly to the UK as a whole. However, until we get these new regulations, its full potential cannot be achieved. We will support this SI.

A number of issues were raised during our debate. The first that I would like to reference is the fight against antimicrobial resistance. This is clearly welcome; anything we can do to support that is really important. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, talked about the issues here; indeed, the noble Lord made an important point about practicalities, which the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, also mentioned. There is no point in having legislation and regulations if, practically speaking, they are not going to work effectively and efficiently. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say in his response on those matters.

I was pleased to see that there was extensive consultation on this; it is clearly outlined in section 10 of the EM. When we have not had any updates for more than 10 years, it is important that there is serious consultation with the industry. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and the noble Lord, Lord de Clifford, said, paragraph 10.3 of the EM details the areas where things have been amended and implemented.

I sometimes complain about the Government and consultation but it is important to give credit where it is due. Doing an extensive consultation then clearly laying out where changes have been made is best practice. I was very pleased to see in paragraph 10.3 that this has been done. That does not necessarily mean that everyone agrees with the decisions but it is important that consultation is done properly and that industry, when it is asked for its opinions, is listened to. That is very important.

Having said that, I am sure the Minister will have picked up that a few noble Lords who took part in the debate had a few suggestions about how things could still be improved. One that I am interested in was initially mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. It concerns small practices and making sure that these extra burdens can be managed by them—as well as making sure that the Government are aware of the burdens and the extra costs—because it is important that they are supported. Vets have had a lot of pressures on them in recent years, so this is really important. I know that, during the cost of living crisis, it has often been difficult for vets to balance fees, for example, with providing care to animals; that is clearly more difficult for small practices.

The noble Lords, Lord Trees and Lord de Clifford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about drugs. The noble Baroness raised in particular the issue of flea and tick treatment and the damage it does to the environment. You do not have to use spot on; we use a different treatment for our dog, for example. Again, this is something that needs to be picked up and looked at.

We welcome and support these proposals. I finish by sending huge thanks to our local vet—Galemire in Cleator Moor—because, only last week, our elderly Labrador had a major operation. Thanks to our wonderful vet, he is doing extremely well. He is having his stitches out next week so, fingers crossed, he will soon be back to normal.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords and noble Baronesses for their contributions to this debate. I appreciate that it is large and complicated, and that it is challenging to wade your way through it. I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who has been incredibly supportive of a lot of these changes—indeed, he has been driving a lot of them for quite some time. He is also involved with the veterinary medicine issues in Northern Ireland and the working group there, which met just yesterday; that is another complicated aspect of this issue, so I am hugely grateful for his involvement and all his support.

I will try to take the questions by topic rather than individually because some distinct topics ran through all of them. If I miss anybody, either noble Lords can shout at me at the end or I will write in the normal way.

Antibiotics were mentioned by everybody; everybody wants to know about them. The backdrop to this issue is that the use and prescription of antibiotics must not, and should not, be an excuse for poor animal husbandry. I think we all accept that. They are not for that purpose. However, there are certain circumstances where they might be necessary for the greater good. The provision in this instrument remains to permit that but it is about a judgment call from a professional who has been trained, who knows a lot about the subject and who is connected into local knowledge so that, if they have to apply antibiotics in this way, they then have to follow that up with a report to explain why they have done so. So a lot of thought will gone into that.

This ties in directly with the wider One Health approach, which has been raised by a number of noble Lords and noble Baronesses. In particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, talked about the need for joined-up thinking. I have watched a number of presentations on the One Health approach; I have been extremely impressed by the level of detail, the knowledge and the way that is being driven.

I am also incredibly encouraged by the drop in the use of antibiotics over the past 10 years. It is a really good news story. The detail that sits behind that in certain areas shows that, in the vast majority of areas, there is a real, long-lasting improvement. It is not perfect, I get the need to drive it forward, and, as was rightly pointed out, another review is coming up; we will look at that very carefully. However, it is important to acknowledge that it is something on which we have led. It has been really successful. It is driving change not just in the UK but elsewhere, and its long-term benefits will be very profound for all the reasons that have been articulated here this afternoon.

There were some specific questions about the five days from prescription to use. There was quite a range of views in the consultation. Some were that it is far too long and others that it is potentially challenging in certain circumstances, such as those the noble Lord, Lord Trees, illustrated, where there might be a fish farm in a remote area, but they tend to hold stores of antibiotics quite close to these areas. I will take that back to the department and look at it again. It is difficult, because one person says this and another says that. We have tried to hit the sweet spot in the middle. I do not know how it will play out in practice, but I cannot imagine for a moment that, if there was a specific issue about getting antibiotics to a remote location and it took six days, somebody will take issue with that.

Moving on from antibiotics, we talked a bit about flea and tick treatments getting into the wider countryside and our waterways. Restricting the way products are prescribed without supporting evidence may end up compromising animal health and welfare because of a change in usage patterns and the additional costs of visiting a vet. In authorising these veterinary medicines, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate takes into account parasite control users’ safety and the environmental risks. In this instance, the medicines play a vital role in treating fleas and ticks, which can lead to harmful diseases in not just family pets but farm animals, and present a risk to humans. I am particularly talking about ticks, which are a growing problem across the UK. The Government are very aware of this issue and, in seeking to try to balance the pros and cons, we are looking at it very carefully.

There were quite a lot of comments from the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Bakewell, and others on the cost to farmers and smaller veterinary practices, and how that will play out. Where modernisation of farm management practices or infrastructure is needed to reduce the risk of disease and prevent the routine or prophylactic use of antibiotics there may be costs to farmers in implementing these changes or upgrading the farming infrastructure to support them. As part of the Government’s commitment to sustainable farming futures, sheep, pigs, poultry and cattle farmers in England can now apply for capital grants to improve health and welfare on their farms. In the longer term, improved biosecurity management and preventive disease control reduces clinical and subclinical disease rates and has economic benefits for the farmer, including lower treatment costs, improved growth rates and reduced mortality. In England, the animal health and welfare pathway is providing funding for an annual vet visit alongside grants for equipment, technology and infrastructure to support the modernisation of farm management practices and infrastructure.

I appreciate that that does not address the actual issue of the cost increases, but, as was alluded to by a number of noble Lords, it has been a long time since we increased these charges. That is not entirely because we have not been looking at it or paying attention to it, but everybody is very conscious that when these costs and charges are increased it has a knock-on impact on the end-user, usually.

I am also aware from the comments made of the stretched nature, which we have discussed before, of the veterinary workforce across the UK at the moment. I have been in discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and the Chief Veterinary Officer, as well as quite a few others in other organisations, about that and how we can address this particular shortfall.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, was inquiring on quite a few issues, some of which I will not attempt to answer this afternoon, otherwise I would be here for a very long time. Perhaps I could refer them to the department and get a letter out with some written answers to her.

With that, I hope that I have answered all the general questions. If anybody has anything specific that they would like to refer to me now, I would be happy to take it, otherwise I will wind up and commend this instrument to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Goods Vehicles (International Road Transport Permits and Haulage Within the EU) Regulations 2024

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Goods Vehicles (International Road Transport Permits and Haulage Within the EU) Regulations 2024.

My Lords, I beg to move that these regulations be considered. They have two main purposes. First, they implement fully some specialised provisions contained in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which I will refer to, if I may, as the TCA, in relation to UK-based operators and drivers. These provisions are connected to declarations for most lorry drivers working for UK-based operators when they make journeys between two points in the European Union.

The TCA provisions had a go-live date in 2022. They have been implemented administratively in the UK already, through the glossing provision in the European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020. These regulations add enforcement powers and increase legal certainty. The full implementation of these provisions is needed to ensure continued, reciprocal access for the movement of goods vehicles between the UK and EU.

Secondly, this instrument amends legislation governing the allocation of permits for the purposes of the transport of goods outside the United Kingdom. The UK has made several new or amended bilateral road transport agreements with countries outside the EU since the previous legislation in 2018. The 2018 regulations —specifically, the International Road Transport Permits (EU Exit) Regulations—also catered for a no-deal Brexit. This instrument revokes and replaces the 2018 regulations.

The background to this is that, at the beginning of February 2022, new requirements provided in the TCA between the UK and the EU came into force. These changes apply to the operators of goods vehicles and their drivers involved in the commercial transport of goods within the territory of the EU and within the UK. Direct journeys between the UK and EU, and vice versa, are outside these requirements. For example, a journey by a UK operator from London to Paris is exempt from these requirements, but a journey made by a UK operator between Paris and Nice is not exempt. Similarly, an EU operator travelling from Berlin to Newcastle is exempt, but an EU operator travelling between Newcastle and Manchester is not and a posting declaration would have to be made.

Operators and drivers who are involved in making journeys affected by the TCA requirements are required to post information about this into a database, which will provide a declaration document that can be scrutinised by enforcement authorities across the European Union and within the UK when required. There is also a process to seek and check further information as part of enforcement procedures.

The instrument being debated today relates to the implementation of enforcement requirements associated with the posting of road transport workers, for UK operators undertaking journeys, including cabotage, in the EU using drivers that they employ directly. Reciprocal provisions applicable to EU operators working in Great Britain were implemented by the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) (Exemptions and Modifications) (Amendment) Regulations 2023, which came into force on 1 October 2023. Those regulations were laid before Parliament on 18 July 2023 under the negative procedure.

There are two principal areas of change. First, this instrument enables enforcement in the United Kingdom against in-scope UK operators who do not fulfil the requirements associated with the posting of transport workers. It is already possible for reported failings of licensed UK operators related to posting declarations to be considered by traffic commissioners in Great Britain and the authorities in Northern Ireland. This is further to provisions amended in 2022 about the repute of licensed operators. This assisted compliance with the relevant TCA provisions in the short term.

However, it is important to have a longer-term and more sustainable approach to demonstrate compliance with the TCA, which is vital to the UK’s international road haulage and the UK’s wider supply chains. Therefore, this instrument provides for specific enforcement related to posting declarations in some circumstances at the roadside. It also assists follow-up inquiries related to operators who have not co-operated with EU-based enforcement agencies. The agencies can contact the UK authorities to request follow-up action, and the TCA prescribes timelines for these to be dealt with in the UK. This instrument also covers goods vehicle operators not requiring an operator licence.

This instrument treats compliance with the posting requirements as a condition of making a specified journey and makes it an offence not to comply with the condition. The approach of making compliance with specified conditions a requirement is already taken for road haulage permits. That approach is part of the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act 2018. The position in relation to enforcement and fines largely mirrors the 2018 regulations, although a change has been made to enable the power to stop.

Secondly, this instrument revokes and replaces with updated provisions the International Road Haulage Permits (EU Exit) Regulations 2018. This is being done to reflect bilateral road transport agreements that the UK has implemented and ratified since 2018 with countries outside the EU, including Azerbaijan, parts of the former Yugoslavia, Switzerland and Ukraine.

The instrument makes other revisions to the 2018 provisions to improve clarity. Although many aspects provided for under this instrument, including the fee levels for permits, are the same as for the 2018 regulations, revoking and replacing the 2018 regulations as opposed to amending them provides for a clearer and more consolidated approach.

Returning to posting declarations, I highlight that the provisions apply to workers who are under a relevant contract, specifically those who are employees or workers. It is important to note that agency workers and self-employed workers, for example owner drivers, are not subject to postings requirements. This mirrors the scope in the EU regulations, which also carve agency drivers and self-employed drivers out of scope.

If a goods vehicle has two drivers—so-called double manning—a posting declaration can be required for both drivers, one driver or neither, depending on their employment status. The regulations apply only when they are undertaking journeys between two points in the European Union. Control officers in the EU can check the credentials of other drivers of UK-based vehicles during journeys within the EU. This would apply to self-employed drivers, for example. The inclusion of the posting procedures in the TCA limits the extent of EU controls on most drivers for UK-based goods vehicle operators on journeys within the EU. It prevents EU member states imposing other control measures. Before the EU legislation was put in place, there had been examples of EU member states putting more burdensome national requirements in place.

The regulations also facilitate the enforcement in the UK of the maximum number of internal journeys that UK operators can undertake within the EU under the TCA. This is limited to a maximum of two laden journeys following the laden arrival of a goods vehicle. Further restrictions apply to cabotage in the EU, which is journeys from one point to another in the same EU country.

These regulations are necessary to ensure that the UK upholds a key part of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, thereby ensuring that movements of goods for trade can continue to take place between the UK and the EU. They also ensure that the UK’s bilateral agreements are reflected in legislation. I commend them to the Committee.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation. I am sure he will forgive me a bit of a weary sigh, because I remember all this from the first time round. As it gradually dawned on us that the assurances that a post-Brexit trade deal would be the easiest trade deal in history were completely wrong, we realised that we were facing a much more complex set of rules and restrictions for the logistics industry, especially those smaller businesses that wanted to continue to trade with the EU.

Other sectors that have particularly suffered in recent years have been not just those trading from the UK to an EU country but, as the Minister explained, those wanting to operate cabotage services. A badly affected sector is performers—musicians and artists of various sorts—who have found it impossible to take their goods, vehicles, scenery, costumes and so on from one country to another. All this has contributed to a decline in the numbers trading and a deterioration in the balance of trade, which specifically has hit small businesses very hard.

Optimistically, I had hoped that we were over the worst and that we would gradually rebuild our trade, as people got used to the new restrictions. Apparently, that is not so, because this instrument appears to be tightening up the rules. The Minister’s introduction, which was very complex and detailed—and extremely helpful—underlined that this is going to carry on being complicated.

Paragraph 6.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum refers to

“the required outcome of the effective enforcement of posting requirements”,

so my first question to the Minister is: can he explain precisely how and to what extent the system was failing before? In a way, I am interested in the mood music behind this change. Have EU countries complained that UK operators are not doing it properly? Have we had international complaints, or are we complaining about EU operators coming here without the required permissions? What is the scenario that has led to these changes?

I realise that there are references in this SI to agreements that go well beyond the EU, but so much of our trade depends to this day on the EU, and even more did in the past. That was the easy way to do business. It was no more complex to go to the EU than it was to go from Yorkshire to Surrey, for example. Therefore, any step that makes things more complicated is a matter of concern.

To reiterate, my first question is: are the Government tightening up as a result of an international request that we do so? My second question concerns Schedule 3, which lists a series of fees. Are they being increased, compared with the previous situation? If so, by how much? All of this is very complicated, especially if you happen to be a small business, so my third question is: what are the Government doing to ensure the new arrangements are adequately publicised and that that publicity is available well in advance of the implementation?

Finally—I hope that the Minister will indulge me—trade is, of course, a two-way thing. As he will know, from 30 April we will be imposing new import checks on meat and plants, leading to the payment of a common user charge of up to £145 per consignment. Can the Minister explain why the Government have given only 27 days’ notice of the size and scale of these charges? How far is that being advertised? In what way are those new charges linked to this trading set-up that we are discussing, or are they not linked in any way at all? I realise that it is not part of the same piece of legislation, but is it part of a reciprocal deal and agreement? The final words the Minister uttered related to the TCA being part of the agreement. This is, of course, part of a whole package—a whole deal—so I am asking about the relationship between those payments and what we are discussing here.

My Lords, I also thank the Minister for his presentation of this SI. He added a certain overview, which is useful. I found myself in a difficult situation with this SI, both because it is complicated and because the normal excellent support I get from the staff in our office was overwhelmed by the fact that the member of staff was doing Rwanda, so I had to try to do it myself.

I set about by trying to understand the thing. I do not know whether it is my age, and that I am just slowing down, but I found it very complex. It was not helped by the fact that the format of the Explanatory Memorandum has been changed—much to my surprise, because I learned the old one and knew where to go. That took me a little while to recover from, but eventually I found that Morag Rethans was my contact. We made contact and she helped me, over quite a long phone conversation, to work through the various bits of the agreement. Yesterday morning, I understood all parts of the SI. I do not think I understood them all at the same time, and my understanding of them has certainly faded a bit in the past 24 hours. I always like the contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, because she is so much more diligent than me and finds little corners in what has been happening.

In a sense, I was content to clarify my mind—the Minister may have to correct me on this—that this was a piece of domestic legislation which took the agreements that we have, particularly the TCA and agreements with other peripheral states, as a given. As far as I can see, there is nothing in this instrument that changes our formal relationship with the EU and those peripheral states. What it does is mend holes in our own regulations that make the interface with other states incomplete and messy. The solution is designed to ensure that UK domestic law fits with our international obligations. In particular, it gives an enforcement mechanism to ensure that its impact is uniform, both in the UK and reciprocally with visitors to the UK.

By the time I had made my limited progress in understanding, I could not actually see any particular flaws in the SI, per se. Thinking in macro terms, it would have been great if we had done it sooner, because the closer it had been to the completion of the TCA and so on, the more likely that it would have fitted together. However, that has passed—let us not worry about it.

The problem with this agreement is that we left the club, and the club did not like us leaving. The negotiations that took place with respect to this area—the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and I go back at least five or six years on this issue—left the problems relating to road transport at a disadvantage compared with where we would like to be. Unfortunately, the only way of getting to where we would like to be would have been to maintain membership of the European Union. Since we on these Benches accept that we are no longer a member, it is our responsibility to conclude agreements that smooth the relationship as far as possible. As far as I can see, that is what this instrument does.

I object in many ways to the £5 million in relation to the assessment—saying that you do not need a proper impact assessment. The beauty of a full impact assessment is that the person doing it has to look at other solutions and, by looking at them, we are at least in part reassured that what is proposed is the best solution, having been exposed to other possibilities. I do not see anywhere where there could have been a better solution but it would have been better to have had a full impact assessment, with the team working on it considering all the solutions before coming to this one. With those few comments, I am content.

Moving outside the brief, in a sense, and joining the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, it seems to me that, compared with some of the fears we had way back before this was firmed up, a pretty practical situation has been developed—as I say, this is the UK end of it—and that the biggest damage is in what one might call the musicians and artists area. I would like an assurance from the Minister—this parallels the noble Baroness’s concern—on what, if anything, the Government are doing about that. Is this still a live issue? Can we have some assurance that it is being pursued because it seems to me that, for most tasks, the regulations that exist now are practical?

It seems that, in this area, however, it is a heavy burden. As I understand it, for larger operations, the problem is overcome by dual registration of specialist transporters and so on, but that area, which is so important to the UK economy, starts off with two or three blokes and their instruments in a Transit van. Previously, they could wander around the continent and so on. I know that that is what the Common Market is about and that we are not in it anymore; nevertheless, it is a considerable blow to emerging musicians and artists, so I hope that the Government might make some progress in that area.

I thank noble Lords for their consideration of these draft regulations and their contributions. I will now attempt to respond to some—or all—of the specific points that were made.

These regulations are required to ensure that the UK continues to meet certain obligations of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which enables ongoing market access to the EU for the UK haulage industry. Failure to legislate to fully implement posting requirements would risk challenge from the EU around a potential breach of the TCA, the key treaty for our ongoing trading relationships with the EU. The regulations assist the UK’s competent authorities to deal with operators who have refused to co-operate with foreign authorities. The UK’s competent authorities are the traffic commissioners, for Great Britain, and the Transport Regulation Unit, for Northern Ireland. The regulations increase the tools available to them and their ability to prevent attempts to evade the rule of law.

In 2023, the UK laid regulations that provided competent authorities with powers to enforce posting requirements related to EU operators working in the UK. It is important that the UK is seen as fair and implements the reciprocal provisions for UK operators, who are subject to the same requirements in the EU. Additionally, domestic legislation must be updated to reflect the progress of partnerships with countries outside the EU—including several new and amended bilateral road transport agreements, to which I alluded earlier, that have been signed since 2018. Although UK operators working abroad outside the agreements take a chance of facing enforcement abroad, by matching UK law to these agreements, the regulations demonstrate the UK’s commitment to honouring them fully.

I turn to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, about UK haulage access rights abroad. During the TCA negotiations, the UK proposed specific market access rights for specialist hauliers servicing tours for cultural events, arguing that the nature of their work was specialist and different from general haulage activities. UK negotiators attempted to differentiate cabotage arrangements from touring. They sought to permit the carriage of goods entering the EU from the UK being unloaded and reloaded at various points in the EU and returning to the UK unaltered. The EU did not accept this proposal, seeing these different arrangements as a way of getting additional cabotage rights which are unprecedented for non-EEA/EFTA countries. To support the cultural touring sector, the Department for Transport implemented the dual registration measure in the summer of 2022. This measure relates to HGV operators.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised engagement with stakeholders. Throughout the development and implementation of these measures associated with the posting of transport workers, we have been engaging with industry stakeholders to promote the changes and helping businesses to know what they need to do. An 8-week public call for evidence was held from 29 June 2021 to 24 August 2021 which received 113 responses which were published on GOV.UK; 64 of these responses were from representatives of organisations. Following this, we also held a closed consultation on the proposed legislative measures with six key stakeholders, including industry associations. Consultees were broadly supportive of the proposals, and the majority thought that the additional burden imposed on businesses would be low. The devolved Administrations have been consulted on the details and proposed effects of the regulations throughout the process, including a specific consultation from August to October 2023 about the postings and international permits provisions of these regulations.

On the impact assessment, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, the Department for Transport undertook a post-implementation review of the 2018 regulations. Permit numbers have not been oversubscribed. There have been no reports of impact by the industry.

On communications to the industry, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, the changes made by these regulations will be communicated with the industry via trade associations, updates to GOV.UK and other relevant channels. Information is already available where there have been changes to permit requirements in international road transport agreements. Communications with trade associations were done when international road transport agreements were implemented.

Posting requirements already apply to road transport operators and drivers for journeys between two places in the EU. Guidance has already been published. The provisions of this instrument do not affect what road transport operators or drivers need to do to comply with the posting requirements. On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on fees, they are not being increased.

On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, as a result of the trade and co-operation agreement, the UK is required to implement some changes related to road transport from 2022 onwards. This is because the related EU acquis was, when the TCA was negotiated, known to be being changed from 2022. Therefore, provisions were included in the TCA for changes to come into effect later. These later changes include changes to the road transport operator licensing regime, which the UK made in 2022. They also include changes in relation to the posting of transport workers affecting in-scope drivers of goods vehicles, which is the subject of these regulations. These changes were written into the 2020 TCA, albeit with later commencement dates.

To conclude, these regulations are an important step in the UK’s future relationship with the European Union and an important part of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement that we agreed when leaving the EU. Implementing these regulations will ensure that UK operators found to be breaking the rules included in the TCA—an important treaty for our ongoing trading relationship with the EU— can be dealt with appropriately. The regulations also update requirements related to road haulage permits, including in the light of new and better bilateral road transport agreements between the UK and certain non-EU states.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 3.45 pm.